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Gov. says restart of nuclear plant in Niigata to take 'several years'

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The restart of a nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. on the Sea of Japan coast will likely take "several years," the governor of Niigata Prefecture said Thursday, highlighting the difficulty in concluding post-2011 nuclear disaster reviews.

    The utility known as TEPCO has been seeking to reactivate the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world's largest by generation capacity, as soon as possible to boost revenue, as it grapples with ballooning costs stemming from the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan's northeast.

    "There can be no discussions about a restart without reviewing" factors including the cause of the Fukushima nuclear accident and evacuation plans for residents, Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama said in his first talks with TEPCO executives since assuming office in October.

    Restarting reactors remains a sensitive issue in Japan following the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggered by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan in March 2011. Stricter safety standards were introduced after the crisis.

    "I expect it will take several years to review" all the factors, Yoneyama told TEPCO President Naomi Hirose and Chairman Fumio Sudo at the prefectural government office.

    The prefectural government plans to set up independent investigation panels to look into the Fukushima disaster and its health impact, as well as arrangements for evacuating residents in the event of a nuclear disaster.

    Hirose remained confident, however, that both sides will find common ground, telling reporters after the meeting that he had the impression that TEPCO and the prefectural government "can continue to have positive discussions."

    Yoneyama has expressed his intention to visit the plant, as well as the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

    Sudo told the governor that the utility will "earnestly address" the concerns of the prefectural government and community. After the meeting, he told reporters that local consent must "take priority."

    "As an operator, we must be prepared," he said, suggesting that it will take a long time before the plant is restarted.

    With total costs related to the 2011 disaster, including for compensation and decommissioning, likely to reach around 22 trillion yen ($189 billion), TEPCO is speeding up its turnaround efforts, aiming to reform its nuclear power and electricity transmission businesses.

    Yoneyama's meeting with the TEPCO executives was initially scheduled for November but postponed following a strong earthquake off the coast of Fukushima and the detection of bird flu in Niigata.

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